I’m still trying to wrap my head around this news because it doesn’t feel possible to me, but Robin Williams is dead. He was only 63. Much too young. They’re saying it might have been suicide, which only makes it feel all the more incomprehensible. But depression can whisper lies in your ear and tell you no one cares; it can fill your head with regrets and disappointments until the pain becomes too much to bear. Like many who suffer from depression, Williams self-medicated, and was recently back in rehab for alcohol abuse. How the life of someone who brought such joy to millions could be so filled with pain and sadness is hard to understand, but depression doesn’t give a damn. Depression doesn’t give anything. It only takes.
One of the reasons it’s so hard for me to process this news is because of how much Robin Williams meant to me, as he did to so many others. I grew up watching Mork & Mindy. I even had a 1980 Mork & Mindy wall calendar in my childhood bedroom. The show was such a part of my life growing up that I can still remember those rainbow suspenders, and “Fly, be free,” and “Mork calling Orson,” and “Nanoo nanoo,” and Exidor, and Jonathan Winters as Mearth, and “Why do they call it rush hour when nothing moves,” and “This sandwich was untouched by human hands,” and my youthful confusion at the very first episode when Mindy mistakenly thinks Mork is a priest because his suit is on backward and she calls him “Father,” and I thought that meant she was Mork’s daughter living on Earth.
A list of the Robin Williams films I saw and enjoyed is like a list of some of the most popular and culturally relevant films of the 1980s and ’90s: The World According to Garp, Moscow on the Hudson, Good Morning, Vietnam (I listened to that soundtrack on cassette throughout my late teens and early 20s), The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Dead Again (which only I seem to love), The Fisher King, Hook, Aladdin (I have worn my VHS tape through), Mrs. Doubtfire, The Birdcage, Good Will Hunting, the list goes on and on and on. (I didn’t include Dead Poets Society because I haven’t seen it.)
I also had the pleasure of seeing him live at a taping of The Daily Show I attended with Marcy and G Italiano back in the early 2000s, when they were visiting from Canada. Seated at the end of the bleachers, I was able to look over and see the PAs attaching a mic to his lapel in preparation for going on. I caught his eye and waved. To my happy surprise, he waved back.
In recent years, though, Williams’ manic humor and constant circumcision jokes began to grate on me, and I realized I had outgrown him. Where seeing his name on a cast list used to make me interested in a film, it began to have the opposite effect for me. But his appearance in a 2012 episode of Louie changed that. It reminded me what a good actor he could be when he wasn’t mugging, using fake voices, and making faces.
Robin Williams was a one-of-a-kind talent. He will be missed by his legions of fans, but more than that, he leaves us with a gigantic, Williams-sized hole in the world of humor. There won’t be another like him, but he inspired so many comedians and actors that I suspect the hole will fill again soon. I look forward to discovering who will fill it.